By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
A beautiful story came out over the weekend in the Washington Post about an 11-year-old beagle named Hammy. Adopted in 2013 after living in a research laboratory for his first four years of life, Hammy became the beloved pup of journalist Melanie D.G. Kaplan.
As often happens, both the human and the dog in this relationship continue to learn and grow as they live their lives together. While Hammy remains fearful of certain sounds and uneasy around strange objects, he has otherwise thrived, discovering the freedom all dogs should enjoy. Through years spent helping Hammy overcome the trauma of life as a research subject, Kaplan discovered new reserves of patience and kindness: “How lucky I am to be his therapy human,” she wrote.
Hammy’s transformation is not surprising. We have seen first-hand the ability of dogs to display amazing resilience and affection when given the chance to flourish in a home.
The same is true of Teddy the beagle, now living the best possible life with a family in Michigan after his release from a laboratory. A bipartisan bill was recently introduced in Michigan (HB 4481/HB 4482) that would ensure dogs and cats used in research facilities are given the chance to be adopted—and it is named after him: Teddy’s Law. We are thankful to Michigan State Reps. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores, and Tommy Brann, R-Wyoming, their leadership on this effort in the state.
In 2019, the Humane Society of the United States released an undercover investigation of the testing of various products, including pesticides, on dogs in a laboratory in Michigan. One test involved the force-feeding of fungicide to beagles. Thanks to immense public pressure from hundreds of thousands of advocates, the laboratory agreed to end the test and release the beagles to a local partner organization, Michigan Humane, to be adopted into permanent, caring homes.
Teddy was one of these dogs. When Teddy was put up for adoption, just eight minutes after his photo was posted online, a couple in Michigan saw Teddy and immediately knew he was meant to be their pup.
Teddy’s adopted family expected significant challenges for him adjusting to life outside a laboratory, but they have discovered that, “he is just so happy to be free and has a great capacity for forgiveness and love.”
In his new home, Teddy loves squeezing squeaky toys, devouring yummy treats and cozying up in bed for long afternoon naps. While at first apprehensive about being off leash in the family’s backyard, Teddy now loves romping around on the grass and chasing down balls.
Teddy wasn’t alone in his joy. We documented the first happy moments of many of the former lab beagles as they adjusted to their loving new homes.
More Than 50,000 Dogs Each Year
Unfortunately, this opportunity for meaningful companionship may never occur for many of the more than 50,000 dogs used in U.S. research laboratories each year. Federal law regulates the care and use of dogs and cats used in research while they are in the laboratory but does not offer any protection for those animals once the research project ends, other than requiring that when facilities destroy them, they do so by euthanasia. While some lucky dogs may be adopted after their use in the laboratory, most dogs used in experiments are killed, especially those used in chemical and drug testing.
That is why we have worked for many years to encourage states to pass laws requiring laboratories, when possible, to offer dogs to shelters and other rescue organizations so they can be adopted. These local animal organizations are most experienced in conducting behavioral and medical evaluations to ensure animals are placed in the best possible home environment.
Thirteen states across the U.S., including Minnesota, Illinois and Virginia, have instituted successful adoption laws for dogs, cats and other animals. Now it’s Michigan’s turn. Teddy’s Law would create a pathway for thousands of dogs and cats to find loving homes through the expert evaluation and placement of Michigan’s animal shelters. All dogs and cats deserve the opportunity to be part of a family, and passage of Teddy’s Law would make it possible for hundreds of animals to live a happier life.
Adoption laws like Teddy’s Law are important policies, and we will continue to push for their enactment in every state. But much more needs to be done to end the use of dogs and other animals in biomedical research and testing. In March 2021, we published a report that scrutinizes projects funded by the federal National Institutes of Health that used dogs. The report issued several recommendations for action, such as calling on federal agencies to announce clear commitments and timelines for phasing out the use of animals in research and testing.
You can add your voice: Call on state and federal policymakers to end research and testing on dogs and invest in science that doesn’t cause animal suffering. If you live in Michigan, you can contact your legislators to voice your support for Teddy’s Law.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.